President Medvedev continues dialogue with political parties.

Medvedev will intensify contacts with political structures, both the ones represented in the Duma and those operating beyond it, before the end of the spring session of the parliament. Consultations with Duma factions will end in late May (presumably on May 28). As of early April, the president has met with activists and functionaries of United Russia, Fair Russia, and the CPRF. Liberal Democrats with their party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky will be the last to visit Medvedev in Barvikha later this month.

LDPR faction leader Igor Lebedev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that LDPR members were currently working on five anti-crisis statements. On the other hand, crisis was not all they intended to bring up at the meeting with the president. “We will acquaint the president with some ideas on advancement of relations with CIS countries,” Lebedev explained. Medvedev’s initiatives aimed at political liberalization would be mentioned as well. (The LDPR is known to object to the latest amendments of the electoral legislation and to the law on equal access to the media for parliamentary political parties.)

What information is available to this newspaper meanwhile indicates that the Presidential Administration was already instructed to line up midget political parties for audiences with Medvedev. Political reforms left only three non-parliamentary political structures in Russia last year – Right Cause, Yabloko, and Russian Patriots. It is these parties whose functionaries will be meeting with the president next month, conceivably before the end of the current political season.

Elated at the opportunity, leaders of small political parties intend to brief the president on how they think the crisis should be fought and ask him to proceed with modernization of the political system. “I’d like to discuss abolition of the institute of registration. Also importantly, the whole state machinery should be made transparent,” Right Cause Co-Chairman Georgy Bovt said. As for Medvedev’s political reforms, Bovt suggested that they ought to continue – but some serious thought should be given first to the future efforts to modernize the existing system. “Something like abolition of signatures before parliamentary elections for the officially registered political parties and abatement of the barrier to 5%.”

Yabloko leader Sergei Mitrokhin in his turn admitted that he was going to inform the president of his party’s idea (legislative initiative) to make natural monopolies and organizations aided by the federal budget reveal all their commercial information. “What we suggest is their removal from the list of subjects of the acting commercial secrets legislation,” he explained. “We want the population to know how come housing services tariffs rise every three months and what bonuses are paid to top officials and executives of the organizations responsible for it. It will be a genuine anti-crisis measure.” On the other hand, Mitrokhin admitted that he did not think much of Medvedev’s political reforms. To be more exact, he was peeved that the law on equal access to the media ignored interests of small political parties.

Even though small political parties polling 5% in the Duma election are guaranteed seats on the lower house of the parliament and access to the media that goes with it, Mitrokhin remained skeptical of the whole arrangement. “To get this guaranteed access, we ought to get elected into the Duma in the first place,” he said. “How are we supposed to do it when TV networks are off bounds for us?”

Rostislav Turovsky (Department of Regional Studies of the Political Techniques Center) suggested two explanations of the president’s active communication with political parties. “One explanation is simple. More political parties are expected to make the Duma now – Medvedev himself suggested it. It is therefore absolutely reasonable for him to want to meet with whoever stands a chance to end up there. The second explanation… it’s simple too. Medvedev needs allies. Seclusion in the political system is his main problem. I reckon that he is trying to breach it.”

Dmitry Badovsky, Assistant Director General of the Institute of Social Systems, had a different hypothesis to venture. He said the powers-that-be and the Russian state were after political consolidation that they thought was necessary if the crisis was to be overcome. Emphasis was made on establishment of a dialogue at this point, Badovsky said. On the other hand, the expert suggested that neither was electoral effect of these contacts entirely lost on Medvedev. “Consciously or not, securing electoral support is what every politician is always after,” Badovsky said.

“Unless the minority and its mood are taken into account in time of crisis, unless dialogue with the opposition is established and maintained, the opposition may turn radical. Hence the necessity to meet the opposition halfway,” Aleksei Makarkin of the Political Techniques Center said. According to Makarkin, Medvedev, lacking experience in public politics as he was, wanted to understand what politicians in Russia were worth dealing with and what they could offer him, if anything. “There is more to these meetings than an attempt at a dialogue. Medvedev wants an alternative look at some processes or other,” Makarkin said.

In the meantime, Medvedev’s active contacts with political midgets might also indicate his resolve to solidify his positions on the political terrain. Four political parties nominated Medvedev for president in the first place. Two of them are already extinct (Agrarians and Civil Power) while the remaining two insolently take their time demonstrating their support for his initiatives, these days. United Russia faction for example is in no hurry to pass the laws drawn in the Kremlin. The draft law on Cabinet’s reports to the parliament is a fresh example. The lower house of the parliament discussed the document in a perfunctory manner in spring and tabled the matter until the next session.

Neither did Medvedev fare better with Fair Russia whose leader Sergei Mironov remained a faithful member of the prime minister’s team.

As a result, the foundation Medvedev once thought he could rely on remains thoroughly unstable and its consolidation depends entirely on Vladimir Putin. The president lacks a team of his own, according to Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center. “Asked about Medvedev’s team a year ago, some experts mentioned several men who had been close to Medvedev once and were somewhere near him then. Well, the same men are still there, somewhere nearby, but not a single new person surfaced to join the presidential team,” Petrov shrugged.